HiRes Audio on a Phone? Where MP3/AAC/FLAC are all so yesterday – details

For most of us we used to buy CD’s but now the trend is more towards downloading music, or even paying a monthly fee for all you can listen to streaming music service eg. Spotify, Apple, Google and others. They all offer a high music quality streaming option, but generally the maximum bitrate is 320mp3. Tidal HiFi is an exception, as this allows for FLAC HiFi quality music files. FLAC files are above CD quality and sound great. But the catch 22 is that the higher the bitrate or quality the more space you need to store your music. Instead of an album taking 100mb at 320 bitrate mp3, the same album recorded using FLAC can be approaching 800mb. The other potential downside of FLAC music files is that poorly recorded tracks sound dreadful and or if you have low quality headphones, these get exposed with high quality music recordings.

I have always thought FLAC to be one of the best audio file types available. But I was wrong. As part of my purchase of the Oppo HA-2 (click here for my review https://gavinsgadgets.com/2015/02/28/oppo-ha-2-portable-headphone-and-dac-review/ ) , I received an album using DSD audio files from a musician called David Elias. The space needed for 9 tracks was 1.9gb. Huge. The same 9 tracks as FLAC files needed 1gb less of storage space. So I copied the tracks across to my Note 4, opened USB Audio Player Pro app for android, went to the directory and started playing the music. My Oppo HA-2 was connected using my Sennheiser HD518 headphones. I have never, ever, ever heard anything quite so incredible. It was identical to having the musicians playing next to you, in your room and hearing all the nuances, with everything so crystal clear in ways that are hard to describe. Even though this was a free offer, I decided to drop David Elias a line thanking him for the free offer via Oppo and express my delights with the high audio quality and his music. David then took the time to explain how everything works, and why DSD audio is the way to go for HiRes Audio. I have included parts of David’s reply to me.

Here is what David said –

“DSD in fact opened up my ears to listening with its birth in the late 90’s. My good friend was piloting the original DSD 2-track Sony workstation with the Sony SACD Project and played some test master tape archive transfers to DSD.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was so much better than anything digital I’d ever heard by far and anything on vinyl by some. It was like being present in the studio during the recording.

So i went on with Gus’s encouragement to self-produce the world’a first unsigned artist SACD as a hybrid 5.1 multichannel and stereo disc recorded in 2002 and released in 2003 called “The Window”.

“The Window” was recorded to the first multitrack Sony recorder later to become named Sonoma. It supported 8 tracks. We used a large pro studio analog mixer to mix the live studio band (up to 7 players) with no isolation to stereo. We captured 2 additional tracks as stereo from the room itself and spot mics to separate tracks on just my vocal, Sally’s dobro, Eric’s bass and Matt’s mandolin.

Gus and I mixed from those 8 tracks to 5.1 surround (5.0 really as we elected to avoid the sub channel and simply let the playback system crossover handle that) as well as a separate master DSD mix to stereo.Everything was mixed in native DSD on the Sony workstation using a Sony DSD mixer card and software. There was even no analog conversion and back to DSD for mixing. The result is 100% pure native DSD mastered on the same workstation. Your DSF files are identical.

There are no edits of any kind as the live analog mix and live room capture prevent that. Wasn’t interested in that anyway. What I wanted was to capture the real recording of the band performing together in the same room at the same time. No effects were used either just the natural reverb acoustics in the room (2 DSD tracks recorded) and delay and bleed between mics in proximity to each other (like Matt’s mando getting a little into my vocal mic cause he was sitting close to me and Marc drumming right behind me like in a show).

What you hear like on “The Old King” is a group of musicians carefully applying their craft in a spontaneous fashion. We had only run through the songs together once the night before our 3-day recording session began.

I tell you all this Gavin to help impress upon you the idea that less is more with audio reproduction. To me it takes first and foremost a good performance. Second it takes a great studio engineer or team to get the right mic choices and placement and application of their craft recording. Then it takes the best format for capturing the performance which for me and acoustic or live electric is DSD hands down. Analog tape is good but noisy and prone to immediate degradation on playback as tape wears and is magnetized or aged.

DSD digital is immortal and unchangeable. That’s why Sony and Philips developed it in the first place to archive their aging master stereo tape library.

We are at the dawn of what I hope is a mass revolution of music lovers seeking better quality recordings. We have had our ears compressed to death for 35+ years by CD technology and most digital recording. That started changing in 2000 with DSD but reached few and mostly only audiophiles listening to jazz and classical music, which was fine for them but left others out.

In the past year plus there are perhaps 300 DAC and player products that support HRA and DSD. What a revolution!

Within David’s email there was even more information too. It really has been an amazing insight.

David also mentioned the following places to look for HiRes audio music –

“I am represented along with some incredible recordings on these other websites where you can usually preview samples:

http://www.highresaudio.jp (Japan)
http://www.nativedsd.com (Netherlands)
http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com (US)
http://www.superhirez.com (US and Canada)

And of course my website http://www.davidelias.com

If you do go down this path, one word of warning – you will need lots of storage space or several 128gb memory cards, a purchase of a decent app like USB Audio Player Pro (£5) for android or Onkyo HF Player on iTunes, decent headphones (£100+) and a great headphone/DAC (£150+). The worst part is going back to 320mp3 music recordings, which is what most of my music library is ripped at, since everything sounds cr*p compared to the DSD audio tracks produced by David Elias.

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1 thought on “HiRes Audio on a Phone? Where MP3/AAC/FLAC are all so yesterday – details

  1. Thanks Gavin. My next project I thinks. But will need to wait a few months as I’ve just switched from Mac Book Air to Surface Pro 3 to see if I could live without my Note 10.1 so need to build up funds again.

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